PORTLAND, Oregon: Intel Corp. has built the fastest supercomputer ever--using an ordinary desktop chip. As part of a project contracted by the Energy Department, Intel strung 7,264 Pentium Pro chips together to make a single computer, shattering the existing record and crossing a new frontier in the ever-growing virtual world. The Energy Department had announced last week the speed record unofficially had been broken December 4, but tests last Wednesday confirmed the machine operated at 1.06 teraflops, or trillion floating point operations per second -- more than tripling the previous record set September 27 by Hitachi Corp. of Japan. And the project is not over yet. The completed machine will connect more than 9,000 Pentium Pro chips and run at about 1.4 teraflops. It will be used by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque to simulate nuclear explosions, allowing the government to help maintain its nuclear arsenal without detonating test weapons. Intel's milestone is thought to mark the onset of a "building block" era of supercomputing. "To know we have this ultracomputer growing from really desktop microchips, it's extraordinary," Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary said Monday in the joint announcement. And with the breakthrough, Intel seems to have substantially broadened a market which it already dominates. "Intel doesn't want to be in the supercomputer business per se," said Andrew Allison, publisher of "Inside the New Computer Industry," a California newsletter. "They want to sell somebody hundreds of thousands of Pentium Pro chips to build their own supercomputers." And while the market for such computers is limited, this simpler, cheaper incarnation of the supercomputer will make it more available to help government, big companies and universities use them to model, via high-speed simulations, everything from long-term weather to human DNA.